Women's Soccer |
July 7, 2011
By Mario Cannon
Women's soccer is on the rise and growing in attention due to great assistance from the FIFA Women's World Cup. It is currently being hosted in Germany through July 17th. This event is a global one that impacts the sport of women's soccer in a powerful way.
"Women's soccer is the most popular (women's) sport in America, bar none," UC head women's soccer coach Michelle Salmon said. "Women's soccer is the fastest growing and it's been that way for the last, probably seven to eight years. Winning the world cup in 1999 gave us that bounce in terms of recognition and that was 13 years ago and our sport continues to grow."
Women soccer players do a fantastic job of promoting the sport, especially after the `99 FIFA Women's World Cup hosted in the United States, which the US won.
"The thing (women's) soccer does well, is they captivate on that," Salmon says.
American great Mia Hamm was one of the first well known marketers for women's soccer. She stated in a 1990's Gatorade commercial, "Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you." This was the commercial where she faced off against NBA legend Michael Jordan. In the commercial they competed against each other in their respective sports, and then ventured off to many others like fencing, track and wrestling. The female players are marketable because "women's soccer is very approachable" in the words of Salmon. The current USA women's soccer team has a Nike Soccer commercial with them walking to the field, titled "Pressure Makes Us." Those are attitudes that have been created to endorse the sport and have helped the popularity to grow not just nationally, but internationally.
As women's soccer continues to grow in international popularity, opportunities for more international players are created for teams like UC who currently has an international player from Canada in junior Kaylee Dakers. Players like her have the opportunity to come and get their education paid for, develop skills and go back home to possibly represent their native country.
"As you see women's soccer continue to grow, there will be more international players looking to come to the States because college is a very good place for developing players," Salmon said. "If you look at some of the national teams, like Mexico and New Zealand, you start to see a lot of college impact and influences on those rosters."
The World Cup is influential for soccer players all over the world. The excitement building in the sport from past World Cups has transcended into colleges over the last two decades.
"We are starting to see that '99 bounce of players who watched the Women's World Cup for the first time when they were eight years old," Salmon said. "Some of those guys are now coming into college and really seeing how much our game has developed in such a very short amount of time, which is the biggest asset."
This holds true for two senior University of Cincinnati women's soccer players, Kelli Pawelko and Kay Young, who both witnessed their first world cup in 1999 and started playing soccer three years before it.
"It was exciting to watch them," Pawelko said of the '99 FIFA Women's World Cup. "We were just then starting to be noticed and those were players I idolized."
A couple other UC senior women's soccer players, Emily Hebbeler and Logan Ballinger, along with Pawelko and Young have been getting together to watch the majority of the United States' games in the tournament. They are a group of young ladies who are highly motivated for next season, after watching previously played games in the World Cup. According to Young, if they had to play in a game of their own directly after watching a game from this tournament, they would have an edge that their competitors would have to account for.
"It makes us want to play," Young said. "We all say that if we watch it before our games we would be really excited to play."
The FIFA Women's World Cup impacts lives and creates dreams. The event is bigger than any individual athlete on the field. It is the pinnacle of all championship tournaments in its sport and for all participants who are representing their country in it.
Coach Salmon has done a good job of instilling pride in her athletes to represent something bigger than themselves every time they put on their jersey and go out to compete.
"You don't just represent the university," Salmon said. "You represent the city. There's a school two miles away that can't put Cincinnati (on their uniforms). They don't have Xavier of Cincinnati on their chest, they have Xavier. We're the only school in the area that when we take the field we represent something bigger than that. When we step on the field, we know what we are representing. We're representing the city and as a team we take great pride in it."
Coach Salmon knows personally about representing something bigger than her. She participated in the United States Olympic Festival in 1998 and was also a member of the United States Under-20 National team from 1993 to 1995.
"I can't put it in words, but when you hear your national anthem playing and you're in the starting 11 and you look down on your chest, you see you're representing the United States of America," she says. "It's the best memory I've ever had as a player. More than a goal, more than any game winning assist, more than winning any championship. The best memory I have coach or player is standing on the field representing my country."
The FIFA Women's World Cup generates memories that as a country can be shared. Memories like the famous Brandi Chastain's victory celebration after scoring a penalty kick in a shootout against China that won the '99 FIFA Women's World Cup for the USA. Moments like that are rarely forgotten if you witnessed them.
Those are the moments that have made women's soccer so highly favored in the United States. It has been producing new and up-and-coming athletes around our country and the world since then.
The FIFA Women's World Cup is relatively new; with it being founded in 1991 compared to the men's which has been around since 1930.
"Now what we are seeing is that the game is gravitating to other nations and really becoming a worldly game for the women's side," Salmon said. "It's always been a worldly game on the men's side, but not here in the US because it competes with baseball and football. On the women's side, nothing really competes with it. So what you are really seeing is women athletes, the rising athletes, are really gravitating and naturally drawn to soccer because of the attention it can garner on such a world stage."
Women's soccer is here and its imprint is being seen around the world.